Genre: Slice of Life, Sports, Comedy, School
Free! is the story of childhood best friends, Nanase Haruka, Tachibana Makoto, Nagisa Hazuki and Matsuoka Rin. Other than their girly names, what they have in common is that they all love swimming. Rin and Haruka or Haru for short, are the most passionate about swimming in the group. When they were kids, they all belonged to a swimming club, and that’s where they met. They participated in the relay swim competition and won, ever since, it created a really strong bond between them. So much that the relay is shown to be a powerful theme in this anime.
In season one, the story depicts the three childhood friends reuniting in high school, Iwatobi, except for Rin, as he joins another neighboring school, Samezuka Academy. Rin is shown to be cold and distant to his former friends, as shown when he meets them in their old childhood swim club.
One day at school, Nagisa comes up with the idea to create a swim club. After persuading Makoto and stubborn Haru, they turn the school upside down to find the necessary paperwork, a meeting room, and a pool. After working their butts offs to clean the pool and get everything straightened up, they’re told that they need 4 members. That’s where Ryugazaki Rei comes in. Nagisa noticed him for his athletic capabilities and girly name, so he thought Rei was destined to join them. After numerous attempts to get Rei to join, he finally gives in. The club then finally opens, as the Iwatobi Swim Club. They also meet this girl, Matsuoka Gou, you guessed it, Rin’s sister, who joins them as the club’s manager. When Spring arrives, the swim club prepares themselves to enter competitions and challenge other schools in swimming races, to reach Nationals.
The other part of the first season focuses on Rin’s rivalry against Haru. Haru is the fastest among them, for that the reason, Rin considers him a rival. Haru on the other hand, couldn’t care less, he only cares about swimming, not competitions or timing. Rin, however, is the complete opposite, during the first season, Rin aspires to become an Olympic swimmer as a tribute to his father, because that was his father’s goal, but he was unable to accomplish it.
However, this dream later proves to be shackles on Rin’s ankles and causes him a great deal of anxiety and frustration. As a result, he feels he has to defeat Haru at his best in order for him to confidently move on with his dream. Because of Haru’s carelessness however, Rin gets frustrated, but he gets even more so from when he realizes that even when he manages to defeat Haru, his victory is tasteless and unsatisfying, as Haru had stopped working out and had stopped practicing, Haru only swam simply because he liked it. Rin gets really frustrated and secretly depressed, as he was already dealing with similar personal issues later revealed in a backstory involving his life after the swim club and his rivalry against Haru.
Season two is even better than season one. It has a much more slice of life approach and less school, as the kids are graduating and they need to be thinking about their future, especially Haru, as the only thing he wants to do is to swim free, nothing else, and like I said Haru is one hell of a stubborn kid. When his best friend Makoto tries to tell him that graduation is close and to start taking school scouting seriously, Haru lashes out on Makoto and runs off.
During season two, we can see how Haru’s carelessness further affects Rin, Haru has natural talent that could take him so far, and he’s taking it for granted, while Rin is training as hard as he can. In season two, Rin’s aspirations and dreams make a drastic turn for the better, and becomes fully committed, and focused.
Eventually, Rin’s progress has Haru looking average, thus, Rin finally decides to show Haru what’s good, and Haru slowly starts to feel not just pressure, but also anxiety from not knowing what he wants to do after school (relatable) and his reason for swimming. Season two also introduces a new character, Rin’s friend, Aizen Sousuke, just kidding, Sousuke Yamazaki, who dislikes Haru as he thinks he gets in the way of Rin’s future. With Haru being undecided and realizing that swimming “free” will not pay his bills, he gets stuck, anxious, and he doesn’t know what to do with his life, especially after hearing the future plans of his best friend, Makoto. At that point, Rin’s input at that moment in the story becomes a pivotal moment for Haru’s life, and Haru jolts awake !
The competitions are really something to look forward to when watching this anime. They’re intense, and the swimming animation is amazing. In addition, the competitions aren’t bias, so you can expect quite the challenge, even after all their efforts and sacrifices.
The plot attributes a lot of focus to the 5 main characters, it shows you where they are coming from and why does swimming mean so much to them. During the competitions, team spirit and peer support emphasizes the real focus of the story, friendship. Even going as far as to use the regional’s platform as a way to rekindle an extinguished flame.
All 5 of them connect on a very deep level, and are willing to go to great lengths for one another. The relay and their love for swimming is the reason for their attachment and that reflects on their teamwork, the value they attribute to swimming and the swim team as a whole. Character insight is a big highlight for me, especially when I see what I see in a character reflect on their actions and influence around their peers.
The anime features a good amount of funny moments, mixed with the sport and slice of life aspect, it really brings the story and its characters together.
When I first started watching anime, the only genre I watched was fantasy. I absolutely thought everything else was boring, especially sports, comedy and slice of life. These 3 genres, I used to be like “what the hell are these”.
Then came a time where I had nothing to watch. I had just finished a gloomy, dark fantasy type anime, so I was looking for something brighter to brighten me up ! It was around summertime and I came across Free! When I read the genre, I automatically thought that I wasn’t going to like it, but it was the first anime I decided to challenge myself with it to see if I can really explore other genres and enjoy them, rather than closing the browser after the first 2 minutes. After giving Free! a try and gulping both seasons in the same night. I was shook.
Three of the genres I had always ignored, then one anime containing all three of them had just become one of my favorites. That really opened me up to start watching new anime of different genres, to see what else I was missing.
It was the first anime where I could explore characters, their aspirations, relationships, struggles and how all of that affected their daily life and how they went on about it. It gave the characters so much depth and added so much weight to the anime. Ever since, it made me look at the character aspect of all anime thereafter differently. Also, they were high school students dealing with a major transitions in their lives, just as I was, and they used the Slice of Life genre to highlight and emphasize it and I was stunned at how the Slice of Life genre could actually be pretty amazing.
However, although Free! is a sports anime, sports is just the underlying/supporting theme for what’s really emphasized in this anime, and that’s friendship. If you’re going to watch Free! for it’s sports aspect, you might not enjoy it as much as you would enjoy other sports focused anime, because Free will give you friendship dramas, comedy and overall high school and post-high school life. The sports genre is like a medium to channel all of that into the story. Since I wasn’t a very big sports fan to begin with, if it wasn’t Inazuma Eleven I didn’t want it. But the theme of sports in Free! even as a supporting cushion didn’t bother me, I was drawn to its slice of life aspect, comedy and characters.
Season 2 is my favorite, the ending is just so satisfying, I could go on, but let’s wrap it up.
RATING: Story: 10 Plot: 9.5 Main Characters: 10 Characters: 8 Action/Comedy/Feels: 10 OVERALL SCORE: 9.5 SirMeliodas Approved